What we can learn from
the Empowered by Parkinson’s documentary in this time of COVID-19
It’s easy to let fear drive our decisions. We do it when we
parent. We do it when we manage our finances. It’s part of our makeup. It’s
part of our being.
Before he became known as a biologist embarking on the
world’s most revolutionary scientific
theories, Charles Darwin spent a good deal of time studying facial expressions.
He wondered exactly why humans make facial expressions in the first place. How
do stress and joy manifest themselves uniquely and uniformly across humankind?
In her article, How Fear
Works, Julia Layton, outlines how in the 1800s Darwin studied his
own facial expressions and attempted to control them in order to explain them
scientifically. Conducting a brief experiment, he entered the London Zoological
Gardens’ reptile house (none
for me, thanks), and tested his own response to a puff adder snake (again; no, thank you). He
documented the exercise in a diary, noting that every time the snake lunged at
him, he grimaced and jumped back despite standing safely behind glass and out
” My will and reason were powerless against the
imagination of a danger which had never been experienced,” he wrote.
Fear is part of what makes us who we are. And it is largely
why we are here in the first place. Had those ancestors who came before us not run
in fear from the venomous snake, they likely were victim to it. Those who were
most fearful were most careful. So, it’s easy to get confused.
But, being careful is different from fear. It means
recognizing fear as a natural thing … but not letting it overtake us to the
point of not living our lives to the fullest — in whatever form that might
In the recent PBS Empowered By Parkinson’s documentary, we
see how easy it might be to forget how bold and strong the health care ecosystem
can be to help treat and manage some of the world’s most vicious diseases.
While treatments for Parkinson’s – or any disease for that matter — today
might not completely cure patients of the condition, advances from a
collaborative system of physicians, technologists, business investors, and
enterprising researchers provide some meaningful additional years to people who
might otherwise have missed cherished experiences with friends and loved ones
or achievements of personal or professional goals.
What’s unique to the stories featured here though is the purposeful
channeling of fear and the unique approach that comes from operationalizing behaviors
beyond the diagnosis. The people featured are not prisoners of fear. They are
careful and in so being, take control of their care. They also have found ways
to inspire themselves and others.
The documentary features Dan Stultz, M.D., a former hospital
CEO and retired head of the Texas Hospital Association, who took significant
steps to address his Parkinson’s diagnosis. Stultz is a friend and mentor I’ve
relied on heavily over the years not only for insight and advice but also for
inspiration and an occasion smart remark or two. Medical technology and
advanced treatment helps him control the grip that Parkinson’s has on his
faculties, but it takes daily awareness and purposeful activities to keep it
managed. From workouts at a local boxing gym to staying active in his workshop,
the disease has a way of working its way even further into people who let their
bodies go idle. It’s a vicious reality of those dealing with Parkinson’s.
To be clear, I’m not a fan of the “battle”
metaphor. I am friends with people who have lost friends and family to cancer
and other diseases, and they are offended by the “fight” and
“battle” message. The cancer “fight” or the disease
“battle” to those who have lost loved ones implies that they just
didn’t put up a hard enough fight or they weren’t strong enough. Patients,
though, are looking for resources — mental and otherwise — that work
hand-in-hand with medicine to advance their own outcomes and improve their life
experiences. Helping give that to them in one way or another is a way to support
not just their healing process, but more importantly, their living process.
To be gripped by fear can only be debilitating if we let it,
but we should not be ignorant ofit. Rather, we should be cognizant of its
existence and use it to drive our behaviors so that we live boldly in its
midst. How we as individuals, as a society, and as a world navigate COVID-19 is
being worked out in real time. Some people and some nations are handling it
better than others. The ignorant refuse to be careful. The fearful refuse to
live. A balance is needed, and when we embrace the reality of a global society’s
risk to pandemic, we can appropriately dismiss partisanship and come together
build a cohesive plan that proactively and practically prepares.
See what else Groundswell Health is working on in healthcare >>